When an auto accident occurs, it is important to examine the extent of personal injury as well as damage done to the wrecked car or other personal property. You need to ascertain who will be liable for personal property damage, to what extent their liability will be, and how a victim can resolve a personal property damage claim in an auto accident.
If a personal injury occurs i.e. if you get hurt during the collision, you must see a medical practitioner immediately for examination and treatment. You should also employ the service of a personal injury lawyer who can help with making necessary claims.
Where an auto accident results in property damage i.e. injury or damage caused to your property, you may need to contact an attorney. You can check out this article on legal recourse in property damage.
Please note that the procedures for personal injury claims and property damage claims are different. For personal injury claims, you can seek compensation for medical expenses, injuries suffered, lost wages, etc. Whereas for property damage, you can claim costs to repair or replace your car and costs for damage to any personal property in the car. This essay will focus on the latter. Please see the steps for making a personal injury claim.
Personal property versus real property
In legal parlance, property can be broadly classified into two, namely:
- real property; and
- personal property.
Real property refers to immovable property such as land, building, or anything attached to land. Generally, anything that is not real property can be classified as personal property. Therefore, personal property refers to items that are not permanently fixed to one location.
Tangible versus intangible personal property
Personal property can be further classified into tangible property and intangible property. Tangible property refers to items that can be moved, touched, and felt. Examples of items that will fall under the tangible personal property classification are:
- Child car seats, etc.
In contrast, intangible personal property are items which you own but you cannot touch, feel, or move. Intangible personal property includes stocks, bonds, insurance policies, intellectual property rights (such as copyrights and patents), etc.
Who is responsible for damage to personal property in an auto accident?
Generally, the at-fault driver or their insurance company has the responsibility to pay for damage done to your car and personal property affected. At-fault parties may be responsible for replacement or repair because personal properties are rarely covered by insurance policies. Please note that the responsibility subsists regardless of whether the collision occurred negligently, recklessly, or intentionally.
In an auto accident, you must be able to prove any loss incurred or damage caused to personal property as a result of the accident. Thus, you must ensure that you have a fair estimate of the specific items destroyed and the economic value of each item.
Also, whether or not the at-fault driver accepts blame, it is important that you contact your insurance company. This is because insurance contracts usually require immediate notification of any damage to the insured property.
Moreover, your insurance company may be in a better situation to handle your claims including billing the at-fault party. This may be more productive than handling the situation yourself. Your insurance company can also help you hire an attorney if the at-fault lawyer files a suit against you or subsequently tries to deny responsibility.
Employer liability for auto accidents
In certain instances, the driver’s employer or company may be responsible for paying compensation. However, note that an employer will only be vicariously liable where the driver was working in the course of employment. Where that is the case, you may bring action against the driver as well as his employer. Thus, if at the time of the accident, the driver was not using the vehicle for work-related purposes, the employer may have no liability.
Prior insurance of damaged personal property
It is also possible that certain expensive personal properties such as jewelry or heirlooms that were damaged as a result of the auto accident may have been previously insured by the victim. Personal property in your house are usually covered by renters or homeowner’s insurance. Other policies may cover personal property that was not destroyed in the home, in which case, the insurance cover may be sufficient to satisfy your claims in part or fully.
How to prove damage to personal property in an auto accident
In addition to collecting information of the at-fault driver, the following tips could help you (or your attorney) successfully claim for damage done to personal property in an auto accident:
Receipts evidencing payments.
You may successfully prove damage to items destroyed in an auto accident by presenting receipts evidencing payment for the items. You can also show receipts for repairs to the damaged items.
Ensure that you inform the police immediately after an accident occurs. You should also request for a crash report which will include details recorded by the police officer who collected information relating to the crash. This may be a good way to prove that you were not at fault and may also include information on the items damaged in the cause of the accident.
A police report will also be useful in a case where the at-fault party does not provide his information, or information of his insurance company at the time of the auto accident. Or even in cases of hit-and-run.
Taking pictures and videos of the scene of the accident will help with proving losses occasioned by the accident. You should take photos of all damaged items, debris, traffic signs, lane, the position of the vehicles involved, etc.
Contact information of witnesses.
You can talk to bystanders who witnessed the collision firsthand, and who may be willing to narrate their account of the auto accident. Thus, it would help your case if you are able to get the phone numbers or email addresses of eyewitnesses. You can also ask stores or banks around if they caught the accident on their CCTV cameras.
Preserve damaged property.
This will serve as hard evidence to help prove the particular damage done to your personal property. You will also be able to prove the extent of the damage. Where immediate repair is preferred, ensure you take clear pictures of the damage, and keep the receipts evidencing payment for repairs safely.
Collect information on the at-fault party’s vehicle.
This is particularly important in cases of hit-and-run. Try to get information of the type of car, the make and model, color, and plate number. This information will be relevant in identifying the driver.
What you should do where the person liable for damages to personal property or their insurance company does not cooperate
Ordinarily, in cases where the damage to personal property is minor, you do not necessarily need to engage an attorney. However, where the counterparty does not cooperate, then you should contact an auto accident attorney to make your legal claims for you. Your attorney may assist you with submitting a demand to the at-fault driver’s insurance company (although, you may also do this yourself).
Your insurance company may have to cover the remainder of your claims where the driver’s insurance coverage is insufficient to cover the amount of personal property damaged.
Bringing an action for property damage in a small claims court
In the event that this engagement with the at-fault party or their insurance company does not yield a positive result, you can institute an action in a small claims court. Suing in a small claims court is cheaper and faster than filing a suit in a regular state court. Please note however that actions can only be brought for cases where the amount claimed does not exceed the capped amount in the particular state, usually between $2,500 to $15000.
An action for personal item claims may be brought together with a general claim for property damage. Here, you will list the personal items damaged as a result of the crash together with your main claims.
When involved in an accident, it is important to ascertain the extent of all the damage done to your property – usually personal property. First, you should see a medical practitioner to be sure that you did not sustain any personal injuries. You should also examine your car and the personal items therein for any loss or damage. This is because it is likely that in a serious motor accident, personal property in the car may be severely affected.
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